Europeans Yield on Iran Sanctions

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 21, 2006

NEW YORK, Dec. 20 -- Britain, France and Germany have scrapped plans to impose a United Nations travel ban on Iranian officials who are linked to Tehran's most controversial nuclear activities, a move intended to win Russian support for a U.N. resolution restricting Iran's nuclear trade, according to U.S. and European officials.

The latest European concession marked a diplomatic victory for Moscow, which has sought to strip a European draft resolution of any measures designed to punish top Iranians for defying the 15-nation council's repeated demands to halt Iran's enrichment of uranium and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. The council's key Western powers are concerned that such materials might be diverted to a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program, though Iran denies it is seeking atomic arms.

The European powers presented the revised resolution Wednesday night to the Security Council in a closed session. "We will vote this resolution Friday morning -- that's what we intend to do," said Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry.

The United States, which has been pressing for tougher sanctions, expressed concern that the European resolution was not strong enough to constrain Iran's nuclear ambitions. But Washington's chief U.N. envoy, Alejandro D. Wolff, would not rule out the possibility that the United States would ultimately support it.

The European draft resolution would bar Iranian trade directly linked to Iran's enrichment and reprocessing activities, and prohibit imports and exports of materials that could help Iran develop a nuclear weapons delivery system or a heavy-water nuclear reactor. It would freeze the financial assets of designated individuals linked to Iran's most sensitive nuclear programs and require states to notify a newly established U.N. committee when those individuals travel abroad.

The resolution would also call on states to prevent Iranian students and scholars from receiving "specialized training" in areas that could contribute to Iran's most sensitive nuclear programs. But it would exclude most of Iran's other nuclear activities, including an $800 million program to develop a Russian-built light-water nuclear reactor in Bushehr, Iran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a Moscow news conference Wednesday that the council had made "qualitative headway" in narrowing the scope of the resolution's measures but that more needed to be done to ensure that the resolution supports U.N. efforts to uncover mysteries surrounding Iran's nuclear program and helps "start talks with Iran, rather than punish Iran."

Lavrov complained that the European resolution would establish a committee with the power to expand the scope of the trade sanctions, a process that could "cut off channels for trade and economic ties with Iran in absolutely legitimate spheres."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a group of newspaper reporters Tuesday that the resolution had been crafted to target Iranian officials directly involved in Iran's most sensitive nuclear programs while avoiding unnecessary hardships on ordinary Iranians.

As diplomats jousted Wednesday, President Bush harshly condemned the Iranian government's recent conference questioning the historical accuracy of the Holocaust. "All that said to me was . . . that the leader in Iran is willing to say things that really hurts his country and further isolates the Iranian people," Bush said at a news conference. He added: "My message to the Iranian people is: You can do better than to have somebody try to rewrite history."

Staff writers Peter Baker and Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company